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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Hot dogs, heavy on the history
Hot dogs, heavy on the history
Take a step back in time at the original Pulliam’s as the famed eatery prepares to open a new location downtown.
Posted: Friday, October 30, 2015 11:45 am
Tom Gillispie — Photos by Anna Tucker
The joint was hopping at Pulliam’s hot-dog stand on a Saturday this summer. Cars and trucks were parked at all angles around the building with white-and-dark green vertical stripes.
People sat eating and drinking on the steps or on stumps under a tree, or in their cars. Some just stood eating under some shade.
The hot-dog stand has been open since 1910, and at least two folks there have been coming to Pulliam’s most of their lives.
Dot and Gene Fishel sat in their vehicle under a tree, eating hot dogs and drinking soft drinks. Dot, who soon will be 76, says she’s been coming to Pulliam’s since she was little. Fishel didn’t offer his age, but he said he has been coming for 65 years.
“It hasn’t changed much,” says Gene, whose brother, Herb, used to be the director of Chevrolet’s racing division. “My daddy and mother brought me [to Pulliam’s] for hot dogs and ice cream when I was 4,” Dot adds. She pointed to a dilapidated trailer with “Ice Cream” on the side and said that’s where her folks got the ice cream back when she was a kid. (Pulliam’s quit selling ice cream in the ’60s.)
“I love hot dogs,” Dot says as she took another big bite and grinned.
The Fishels recalled Gene working for Hanes, which once hosted NFL great Fran Tarkenton; Gene didn’t remember why. The Hanes officials had dinner reservations at Forsyth Country Club, but Tarkenton surprised them by saying he’d heard of Pulliam’s and wanted to eat hot dogs.
The Hanes people didn’t know where Pulliam’s was, but Fishel did. So Tarkenton got a hot dog or two … or three. No word on whether they ever used the country club reservation.
“You celebrate humanity here,” Dot adds with a smile, “because everybody eats here.”
Pulliam’s is at 4400 Walkertown Road in the Ogburn Station neighborhood near Smith Reynolds Airport. Next to Pulliam’s is Graystone Drive, with Ogburn Shopping Center and Clavel’s Auto service nearby. On the other side is the Ogburn Station Car Wash.
People stream in and out of the door. Many are seniors; others are parents with children.
The area around the door is full of signage, with a newspaper story about Pulliam’s leading the way. Over the door are the words “LAUGH WHEN PIGS FLY!” One sign says “WE DO NOT GIVE CHANGE FOR THE CAR WASH,” while another says “Since 1910 Old Fashioned Toasted Hot Dogs Red Pig Barbecue.”
To order, customers have to go inside where there are two lines, one to order, the other line to pay. Naturally, people get confused, but veteran customers put them in the right line.
The place was packed as customers talked to employees or rooted around in coolers for Cheerwine longnecks or Grape Nehis. With people walking around or waiting in line, it was busy, really busy. Some people were eating hot dogs at the counter.
Owner Mark Flynt says that customers don’t come to Pulliam’s every day, but usually on a weekly basis.
“There are a couple hundred regular customers,” he says. “There’s one customer that comes every Wednesday and every Saturday morning.”
A couple, Bert (short for Bertha) and Harold Ridings, have worked there for years. In fact, both Ridings worked for Big Ed Flynt. It seemed like all of their customers were there this Saturday, each with a friend or two in tow.
A man with a white serving hat, white chin beard and red shirt was working furiously behind the counter. I stood in the back of his line.
“Hey, Tom! How you doing?” Flynt asked as he kept on working.
As I reached the front of the pickup line, Flynt pointed out his daughter Caitlin, who was busy but took the time to smile warmly and wave. (Flynt tells me that his other daughter, Megan, is married to Tim Brown, the 10-time Modified champion at Bowman Gray Stadium.)
I said goodbye and left the Flynts and the Ridings to it as I headed back outside with a bag of hot dogs.
The current store is Pulliam’s third location; the previous ones weren’t far from the Ogburn Station location and are no longer in operation.
Soon, there will be a fourth Pulliam’s location, as Flynt has signed a lease in the Downtown Arts District. The new location will be at 545 N. Trade St., next to Body and Soul boutique. The building, at the intersection of Sixth and Trade streets, is owned by Flynt’s friend, Mike Coe, who he’s known “35 or 40 years.”
Flynt says that Coe has long wanted him to add a second Pulliam’s location. Flynt had hoped to open the second location in October, but now he says it’ll probably be around the first of 2016.
In fact, when I was at Pulliam’s, he said that getting the new location up and running had been tougher than expected.
Flynt figures that the current Pulliam’s is 800 square feet—he’s never actually measured it—but he says the new location will have a little more square footage.
The menu at the original Pulliam’s has been pretty much limited to barbecue, hot dogs, chips and bottled soft drinks. While the new spot downtown will serve Pulliam’s hot dogs, French fries will replace the chips.
“We never had room here [for a deep fryer], but people always wanted [French fries],” Flynt says. Flynt also plans to add hamburgers and possibly a chicken sandwich to the downtown menu. Soft drinks will be sold in cans.
He says he hasn’t decided on hours yet, but he says the new Pulliam’s will probably be open six days a week for lunch. And, later on, they’ll open for special events on weekends.
Over the years, Pulliam’s has received local, regional and national recognition for its hot dogs.
Flynt admits that it’s strange that his hot-dog stand is called J.S. Pulliam barbeque. In fact, “Every Day with Rachael Ray” picked J.S. Pulliam Barbeque’s hot dogs as having the best hot dog in the South.
“Every review I’ve ever read talks about the hot dogs, but not the barbecue,” Flynt says. “And in this space, it wouldn’t really work to put in a [barbecue] cooker.”
Flynt isn’t sure what he’ll name thenew place. “Might just call it Pulliam’s,” he says.
John S. Pulliam established Pulliam’s in 1910, and just two families have owned the hot-dog stand in its 105-year history.
Flynt’s father, “Big Ed” Flynt, started working for John Pulliam when he was 10, and he wound up buying the restaurant from Pulliam in 1958.
“Daddy (Big Ed) was a people person,” Flynt says. “Everybody was his friend. He figured that, if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be in business.”
Widow Helen Flynt inherited ownership when Ed Flynt died in 2000. Mark Flynt and his sister Gayla Posey ran it together for a few years before Flynt became the sole owner.
Flynt, 56, has worked at Pulliam’s his entire career, but he says his first memory of Pulliam’s was when he was 10 years old, and also included the nearby Smith Reynolds Airport.
“I remember coming here for ice cream and to watch the Blue Angels (precision flying team) when they’d come to Winston-Salem for an exhibition,” Flynt says. “I’ve got a lot of fond memories of this place, particularly of the people who come through here.”
Flynt says the highlight for him is meeting people. He’s quick to ask customers where they’re from and what they do. He wants his staff—there are five employees at Pulliam’s, counting Flynt and cashier Hilda Reese—to be interested in whoever walks up.
“I love to have them come converse and talk,” Flynt says. “You don’t get friendliness and a hometown feeling everywhere.
“It’s not all about the money. We love talking to people and finding out their interests. When they come back, we just continue on with the conversation.
“It’s like going to see your favorite hair dresser; we have deep conversations with our customers.”
Speaking of which, “There was a little lady from Japan who came here last week,” Flynt says. “She wanted to take pictures that she could take back to Japan. She was doing some kind of aeronautics here.”
Flynt says that Big Ed and Tarkenton were friends, and Tarkenton often came to Pulliam’s. He says that former NASCAR bosses Big Bill France and France Jr. often visited Pulliam’s as well.
“We were big with NASCAR,” Flynt says. “I met a lot of NASCAR people here; still do.”
So what’s Flynt’s best memory with Pulliam’s?
“I guess my favorite memory of all is working with my dad in the business. They called him Big Ed. It was a great pleasure to be brought up in the business, with him showing me the ins and outs.”
Flynt says his dad was a curb kid when he started at Pulliam’s at age 10.
“He’d get their order, go back in and grab the order, and take it out to the car,” Flynt says. “But that’s all gone now; we don’t have curb service anymore.”
Flynt—once called Little Ed or E.J. (Ed Jr.)—says that Big Ed had a theory about eating out, and that’s part of the reason Pulliam’s doesn’t have seating.
“Daddy’s theory was to stand up, and you could eat more,” Flynt says with a laugh. “Sit down, and your belt pushes on you.”
Flynt started working at Pulliam’s at age 14 and was a busy worker before he graduated from R.J. Reynolds High School in 1978. He sometimes worked nights at Joyce Brothers, loading trucks for extra money, and he later worked third shift at Reynolds Tobacco.
Since then, he’s only worked at Pulliam’s … and now the new Pulliam’s, of course.
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